North Dakota state methane rules to remain amid proposed federal regulations rollback

North Dakota state methane rules to remain amid proposed federal regulations rollback


North Dakota will continue regulating methane emissions even after the Trump administration announced plans to ease oil and gas rules, a state official said Thursday.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the proposal to revise the Obama-era standards follows a directive from President Donald Trump to review burdensome energy regulations. His agency estimated the changes could save the oil and gas industry as much as $123 million through 2025.

The move was welcomed by Republican lawmakers from North Dakota, the country's No. 2 oil producer. Gov. Doug Burgum vowed his administration would "continue to control methane emissions and work diligently with industry to find solutions to methane challenges" regardless of changes at the federal level.

"This proposed rule maintains health and environmental protections while eliminating duplicative regulations which increase compliance costs for producers that get passed along to consumers," Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in a statement.

The EPA said the proposal would rescind emissions limits for methane, a contributor to climate change, but the agency said it would keep in place standards for volatile organic compounds.

"The proposal notes that the controls to reduce VOC emissions also reduce methane at the same time, so separate methane limitations for these segments of the industry are redundant," the agency said in a fact sheet.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, described the EPA's proposal as "common sense tweaks" rather than a major regulatory rollback.

Jim Semerad, director of the air quality division at the state Department of Environmental Quality, said North Dakota rules focus on prohibiting the venting of methane while the federal regulations prescribe steps to limit emissions and involve "significant amounts of reporting."

"It's just kind of a different philosophy of how you approach the issue," Semerad said.

But Dan Grossman, the Rocky Mountain regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund, called North Dakota's rules "simply insufficient" to make up for the federal rollback. He said the federal proposal is a "frontal attack on the ability of EPA to regulate climate pollution from the oil and gas industry."

And Semerad said the state DEQ doesn't have jurisdiction over the oil-rich Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

“Over the past ten years, I’ve watched oil and gas turn our reservation into an industrial zone. It’s totally changed our way of life,” Lisa DeVille, a member of the Dakota Resource Council and Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, said in a statement. “Fort Berthold, North Dakota, and America need the EPA’s rules to protect us from methane and other harmful air pollution resulting from oil and gas activities."

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and accounted for 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, according to the EPA.

The EPA said it would take public comment on the proposed changes for two months after they are published in the Federal Register.

Lynn Helms, North Dakota's top oil and gas regulator, was reviewing the proposal and declined to comment Thursday morning through a spokeswoman.


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